Italy’s Summer Opera Festivals

July 23, 2020

The Italian Summer is known for its pristine beaches, verdant mountains, historic festivals and amazing natural light.  The country also hosts numerous summer opera festivals, many are performed outdoors and after sunset in unique venues.   Enjoy your summer days experiencing the country’s rich cultural and historic sites, and in the evening soak up some breathtaking opera performances!  Here are a few festivals to choose from.

Arena di Verona – this is considered the champagne of Italy’s summer opera festivals. It takes place from June to August every year and is performed in an outdoor Roman Arena from the 1st century, and is considered one of the most well preserved arenas of this era.   This festival draws the best in talent and the staging is amazing!

Rossini Festival Pesaro  - an annual event which takes place in August in the composer’s birthplace. The performances are held in different theaters such as the Teatro Rossini, the Palasport Arena, and Teatro Sperimentale.   The festival has attracted some major singers including Marilyn Horne, Montserrat Caballé, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey and Juan Diego Flórez.

Macerata Opera – Held in the unique outdoor Sferisterio Theater built in the late 19th century, this annual festival takes place in July and August.  Due to its large stage, this venue performs more elaborate productions, revisiting the classics and interpreting from a different perspective.  Laura Morante, Michela Murgia, and Massimiliano Finazzer Flory perform here.

Puccini Festival Torre del Lago – this unique outdoor theater overlooks Lake Massaciuccoli and performances start after sunset. Here you can experience all things Puccini, however suggest insect repellent due to it’s location.   The operas are performed every July and August and this festival is celebrating its’ 66th season.

Terme di Caracalla Rome – This annual summer outdoor opera is performed in the ruins of the Caracalla Baths from 216 B.C. and steeped in controversy. The first series of performances went from 1937 to 1940 and was interrupted by World War II.  The festival returned from 1945 to 1993 when it again had to close for the vibration from the performer’s voices and orchestra music were damaging the ruins.  In 2001 the festival returned once again thanks to advances in stage construction and sound barriers to help keep the ruins safe.

DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Spaghetti al Chianti & Fava Beans

July 21, 2020

Our RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Spaghetti al Chianti & Fava Beans!
When many think about food and Tuscany, they think: pasta. But a pasta is not complete without the perfect sauce! This seasonal and classical sauce comes from the kitchen of our Tuscany cooking vacation, “Cook in the Heart of Chianti,” and is very much based on the flavors you want (which is why most of the ingredients are “to taste”). So grab a bottle of Tuscan wine to cook with — and enjoy while cooking — and create a fabulous traditional Tuscan meal at home!

• 750-ml Chianti wine
• Kosher salt
• 1 lb(s) spaghetti
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 12 oz spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
• ¼ cup mascarpone, at room temperature
• 2 lb(s) fava beans, shelled, blanched and peeled
• 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

Add the wine, 8 cups water and a handful of salt to a pasta pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and cook until just shy of al dente, about 8 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and sausage to the hot pan. Cook, breaking up the sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, until almost fully cooked, about 4 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring often. Using tongs or a pasta fork, remove the pasta directly to the sausage pan. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the Parmesan, and toss with tongs to combine. Add the mascarpone, fava beans, rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt and about 1 cup of the pasta water. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, adding more pasta water as needed to form a sauce and coat the pasta. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
Buon Appetito!


July 13, 2020

Our RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca’s Mozzarella in Carrozza!

This Italian snack is essentially a mozzarella stick in sandwich form: Mozzarella cheese tucked inside plush bread, crusted with bread crumbs (use panko for extra crunch) and fried. In parts of Italy, you might also find anchovies, 'nduja or prosciutto in it, or marinara sauce or pesto served alongside for dipping. But gooey cheese in every bite? That's guaranteed: According to the food writer Emiko Davies, it’s called mozzarella en carrozza, or mozzarella in carriage, because the strands of melted mozzarella that pull from the sandwich resemble the reins of a horse and carriage. For best results, skip the fresh mozzarella and look for low-moisture mozzarella — the kind found sealed in plastic without liquid in your supermarket's dairy section. And try to set out your ingredients just before you begin: It'll help the process go more smoothly.

• 3 eggs
• 1 large garlic clove, minced
•  Kosher salt and black pepper
• 1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
• 8 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
• 1 pound low-moisture mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella), chilled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
•  Olive oil, for frying

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs, then beat in the garlic, season with salt and pepper and beat again to combine. In another shallow bowl, add the breadcrumbs, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Top 4 slices of white bread with a single mozzarella slice apiece, and trim the cheese as needed to avoid overhang. Top with the remaining 4 slices of white bread and press down gently.
Dip both sides and all the edges of a sandwich in the egg to coat fully, followed by the bread crumbs. Place on a large plate and transfer to the refrigerator to firm up while you continue to work, then repeat with the other sandwiches.
In a large skillet, heat 1/4-inch olive oil over medium heat. See if the oil is ready by dropping a few bread crumbs in; they should bubble gently. Working in batches as needed, fry each sandwich, turning once with a slotted spatula or a fork, until the outsides and edges are golden brown and the cheese has melted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt, halve diagonally, and serve.

Buon Appetito!


July 8, 2020

Our RecipeOfTheWeek is the Sbrisolona Cake!

The Sbrisolona cake, also called Sbrisolina or Sbrisulada, owes its name to its friability, to the "brise" or large and small crumbs that are formed when it is broken to make portions. The Sbrisolona, in fact, is not cut, but is broken with the hands.

• 200g type "00" flour
• 200g corn flour
• 200g sugar
• 2 yolks
• 140g almonds
• 1 vanillin sachet
• 1 grated lemon peel
• 100g butter
• 100g lard

Coarsely chop the unpeeled almonds, set aside 50g for decoration.
Pour the butter and lard into a bowl and add the chopped almonds and cornmeal. Mix the ingredients, add 3/4 of the dose of sugar, vanillin, 4 yolks, a grated lemon peel and flour. Knead quickly.
Butter a 32 cm diameter pan and distribute the dough by crumbling it with your hands, without compacting it on the bottom. Add the almonds kept aside and cover the surface with the remaining sugar.
Bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the sbrisolona cake when the surface appears well colored
Buon Appetito!


June 30, 2020

Our Recipe Of The Week is Donna Franca's Kapunata!

Kapunata is a delicious vegetarian dish made with bell peppers, capers, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, olives, and garlic. It can be served hot or cold, and is best enjoyed with a thick slice of fresh Maltese bread fresh from the local bakery. This typically-Mediterranean dish holds fond memories for most Maltese people; from long days at the beach to those sweet Sunday afternoons catching up with our grandparents at the kitchen table, the humble kapunata almost always makes an appearance.
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• a few cloves of garlic, crushed
• 4 or 5 tomatoes
• 1 onion, roughly chopped
• 1 eggplant, chopped into cubes
• green, red and orange bell peppers, roughly chopped (yay for colours!)
• a good handful of capers
• salt and pepper (season to taste)
• 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste
• olive oil
• chopped black olives
• fresh basil or mint


How to make:
Start with the eggplant and a baking dish. Throw the eggplant in there, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix it all together and bang it in the oven until the eggplant is a nice golden color – it’ll just take a few minutes. Grab a decently-sized pot or deep pan and heat some olive oil in it. Add the onions and crushed garlic and cook them until they start to turn translucent. Add the chopped bell peppers and continue cooking for a few more minutes before adding the grilled eggplant and tomatoes. Leave all of that deliciousness to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are nice and soft; you can add a little water if things start to get a little dry. Throw in the olives and capers before adding at least 2 tablespoons of tomato paste – but feel free to add more if you just really love kunserva.
Add another dash of salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Top it all off with a few fresh basil (or mint) leaves for extra sass. You’re done! Sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor with an ice-cold beer and comforting slice of Maltese bread.
Buon Appetito!

DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Torta co' bischeri - the pilgrim cake

June 22, 2020

Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Torta co' bischeri: the pilgrim cake!

Imagine a soft cream made with white rice, dark chocolate, pinenuts, candied fruit, raisins and spices in a shortcrust pastry pie. It is called the "Torta co' bischeri" and it's a traditional cake of the Pisa province.

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For the filling
• 1 cups of rice
• 1 cups of dark chocolate
• ½ a cup of pine nuts
• ½ a cup g of cocoa
• ¾ of a cup of black raisins
• ½ a cup candied fruit
• ½ a cup vanilla sugar
• 1 cup of sugar
• 3 eggs
• Nutmeg
• A glass of Strega liqueur
• Rum to taste
• Cinnamon to taste
For the dough
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup of sugar
• ½ a cup of butter
• ½ a cup of vanilla sugar
• 1 teaspoon of baking powder
• Plain white flour
• Grated rind of one lemon untreated

Preparing the filling
Cook the rice in salted water flavored with a little cinnamon. Drain and immediately add the chocolate and cocoa powder and stir vigorously to melt everything well, then cool.
Beat the eggs and add them to the rice mixture, then add the pine nuts, raisins, candied fruit, sugar, some grated nutmeg and the liqueur.
Making the dough
Whisk the egg with the sugar, whisk the yolks and mix with the melted butter in a bain marie, baking powder and lemon zest. Add flour until it becomes the consistency of dough and knead.
Assembling the cake
Roll a thin sheet of dough and line the entire baking tin with it.
Pour in the filling and level the surface. Shape the "bischeri" using the dough around the edges of the cake with a knife to carve the small pyramids.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about an hour and a half.
Buon Appetito!


June 16, 2020

Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Eggplant Parmigiana!
Since it’s eggplant season, we set out to create a homemade eggplant Parmesan recipe.
This Italian-style eggplant Parmesan recipe is lighter than most—it’s made with roasted eggplant slices (not fried) and no breading at all. It’s gluten free, too! Recipe yields one 9-inch square eggplant Parm, or about 8 servings.

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• 3 pounds eggplants (about 3 smallish or 2 medium)
• 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
• 1/4 cup tomato paste
• 28 ounces crushed tomatoes, preferably the fire-roasted variety* 
• 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil, plus additional basil for garnish
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• Pinch of red pepper flakes
• 6 ounces freshly grated part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/2 cups, packed)
• 2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
To roast the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Line two large rimmed, baking sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
Slice off both rounded ends on one eggplant, then stand it up on its widest flat side. Slice through the eggplant vertically to make long, even slabs ¼- to ½-inch-thick. Discard both of the sides that are covered in eggplant skin. Repeat with the other eggplant(s).
Brush both sides of the eggplant slabs lightly with olive oil (you’ll likely need about ¼ cup oil). Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle the top sides with a few dashes of salt and pepper. Roast until golden and tender, about 22 to 27 minutes—halfway through baking, rotate the pans 180 degrees and swap their positions (move pan on lower rack to upper rack, and vice versa). The pan on the lower rack might need a few extra minutes in the oven to turn golden. Set aside.
Meanwhile, to make the tomato sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender and translucent, about 4 to 7 minutes.
Add the garlic and tomato paste. Cook, while stirring, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, stir to combine, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce has thickened nicely, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chopped basil, vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Taste, and add more salt if necessary (I usually add another ¼ teaspoon).
When you’re ready to assemble, spread about ¾ cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9” square baker. Arrange about one-third of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly (cut them to fit, if necessary). Spoon another ¾ cup of the sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese.
Arrange about half of the remaining eggplant slices evenly on top. Spread another ¾ cup sauce on top and sprinkle with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese. Layer the remaining eggplant slices on top and top with ¾ cup sauce (you might have a little left over) and the remaining mozzarella cheese. Evenly sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
Bake on the lower rack, uncovered, until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes to give it time to set, then chop and sprinkle additional basil on top. Slice with a sharp knife and serve.
Leftovers keep well, covered and refrigerated, for about 4 days. Reheat before serving.
Buon Appetito!


June 9, 2020

Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Tiramisù!

Tiramisù is a timeless no-bake Italian dessert combining espresso-dipped ladyfingers and a creamy lightly sweetened mascarpone cream.
Even though tiramisù is actually a fairly recent invention, this dessert of coffee-soaked ladyfingers layered with mascarpone cream enjoys an iconic status among Italian desserts. Its name stems from the phrase tirami sù, an Italian expression which literally means pick me up, a reference to the uplifting effects of sugar, liquor, and coffee.
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• 6 large egg yolks (approx. 1/2 cup of yolks)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese ( room temperature
• 1 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
• 30 each Italian ladyfingers about 1 ½ of the 7 ounce packages (Savoiardi style)
• 1 cup cold espresso or strong coffee
• 1/2 cup flavored Liqueur optional (Marsala, Kalhua, Porto, or Cognac)
• 1 ounce unsweetened cocoa for dusting

Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water using a whisk to mix. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. This is your sabayon, remove from the heat and continue to whip yolks until thick and lemon-colored.  Allow to cool briefly before mixing in mascarpone.
Add room temperature Mascarpone to whipped yolks, mix until well combined.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer whip cream to stiff peaks (hand mixer or stand mixer is fine).
Gently fold the whipped cream in the mascarpone sabayon mixture and set aside. The mascarpone does not have to be at room temperature, but it will help it mix in easier if it is.  Take it out of the refrigerator as you gather ingredients to make the recipe.
Mix the cold espresso with the coffee liquor and dip the ladyfingers into the mixture just long enough to get them wet, do not soak them!
Arrange the ladyfingers in the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish (or container similarly sized)
Spoon half the mascarpone cream filling over the ladyfingers.
Repeat process with another layer of ladyfingers
Add another layer of tiramisu cream
Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Overnight is best.
Dust with cocoa before serving
Buon Appetito!

DONNA FRANCA'S HOMEMADE RECIPES: Bucatini with green beans!

June 2, 2020

Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Bucatini with green beans!
With the first sunny waram days, Italians immediately want to prepare little elaborate and tasty meals. Then there are particular vegetables, such as green beans, which are typical between the spring and summer seasons and are suitable for their versatility to make really tasty recipes, such as pasta with ricotta, green beans and fresh tomatoes. Bucatini with green beans have the taste of summer: a rich dish with an enveloping flavor that will make you taste this seasonal vegetable in a more appetizing way! Whether you are by the sea, on the mountains or more simply enjoying your daily life, you got to give yourself a lunch break, enjoying the pasta with green beans!
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• 1 pound bucatini pasta
• 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 pound French green beans, trimmed and halved
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
• Splash of white wine
• Zest of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the hot pasta to a large heat-proof bowl and add the ricotta. Toss to combine.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the green beans, garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the splash of white wine and reserved pasta cooking liquid and continue cooking until the beans are tender, about 4 more minutes. Add the ricotta-coated pasta to the pan with the green beans and toss to combine. Add the tomatoes and toss gently. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with the lemon zest.

Buon Appetito!


May 26, 2020

Our #RecipeOfTheWeek is Donna Franca's Charlotte alla Milanese!
Wonderful dessert typical in Milano. You can impress everybody with a restaurant-like, flaming dessert!

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2 1/4 pounds apples - peeled, cored and cut into eighths
• 3/4 cup white sugar, divided
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 1/2 cup raisins
• water to cover
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 12 thin slices white bread, crusts removed
• 1 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger rum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Place apples, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest and wine in a heavy saucepan. Pour in water to cover completely. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered 15 minutes.
Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak 10 minutes, then drain and reserve.
In a small bowl, cream together butter and remaining sugar until well combined. Coat the bottom and sides of a 2-quart baking dish with this butter mixture.
Butter the top edge of each slice of bread. Starting from the bottom, roll each slice up into a log, using the buttered edge to seal. Cut 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick slices to form pinwheels. Repeat with remaining bread.
Line bottom and sides of the greased baking dish with bread rounds. Drain the apples and combine them with the drained raisins. Spoon the fruit mixture into the lined dish. Cover the top with the remaining bread rounds. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven 1 hour.
To serve, pour rum over the warm charlotte and light it with a long match or kitchen torch.
Buon Appetito!



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